R. G. Collingwood and the scientific study of Hadrian’ Wall: Richard Hingley, Durham University

This paper considers Collingwood’s claim (1921, 52) that research on Hadrian’s Wall since the 1890s had emerged from a ‘tentative’, ‘amateurish’ and ‘pre-scientific’ study of the subject into a ‘science’. It addresses the nature of Collingwood’s scientific study of the Wall and its origins in the earlier works of John Horsley and Francis Haverfield, focusing upon a genealogical perspective. It argues that, rather than constituting a break with past scholarship on the Wall, Haverfield and Collingwood built on methods of study that originated during the later sixteenth century. The main contribution that was made by Collingwood and Haverfield was, effectively, to narrow-down research to a primary focus of attention on the chronology, sequence and function of the Wall. David Breeze (2003) has suggested that the attitude to certainty that pervades this research has damaged the subject and this paper re-evaluates this argument, drawing upon Collingwood’s contribution. It is suggested that the science of Wall studies distanced the Wall from its own living history, serving to reduce its broader social, political and cultural significance in the wider community (Hingley 2010; Witcher et al 2010).

Breeze, D. J. (2003). ‘John Collingwood Bruce and the Study of Hadrian’s Wall.’ Britannia 34: 1-18.

Collingwood, R. G. (1921). ‘Hadrian’s Wall: A History of the Problem.’ Journal of Roman Studies 11: 37-66.

Hingley, R. (2010). ‘“The Most Ancient Boundary between England and Scotland”: genealogies of the Roman Walls.’ Classical Reception Journal 2: 24-43.

Witcher, R., D. P. Tolia-Kelly and R. Hingley (2010). ‘Archaeologies of Landscape: Excavating the Materalities of Hadrian’s Wall.’ Journal of Material Culture 15(1): 105-128.


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